Australia: Tears and Tool Boxes

Last week I presented two workshops at the Australian College of Children and Young People in Melbourne. I feel at home with a group of thirty nurses as I march comfortably through my HUG Your Baby introductory presentations. I share the following story that demonstrates the importance of helping parents understand their baby's normal behavior, and the impressive impact when parents do not.

Several years ago I was giving a one-hour class for expectant and new parents. I am reviewing a baby's "Zones" and "SOSs--Signs of Over-Stimulation" that include "body SOSs" (with changes in movement, color and breathing) and three "behavioral SOSs" ("spacing out," "shutting down," and "switching off"). 

Attendees are always surprised by "switching off," the tendency an over-stimulated baby has to turn away from a parent's face.

A young women hurries down to talk with me after class. Enthusiastically, she shares the story of her newly adopted baby.

"I am so excited to have my two-week-old HOME with me," she says. "But, when I sit and talk excitedly with him, he turns his head and looks away from me. So, I have been worried that he is looking for his real mother!"

Needless to say, I am quite touched by this story--the impact of a loving parent's misunderstanding her baby's normal newborn behavior. 

She, her husband and her baby come to see me the following day to sort this out. When I talk to this little one he turns his face to the side. If I move in that direction and try to re-engage, he turns his face the other direction.

I am delighted to see exactly what this mother has described, and am quick to compliment the mother on her baby's remarkable ability to manage an over-stimulated  state. "Turning away is a mature way of responding to over-stimulation," I explain. "Some babies would simply cry or put themselves to sleep."

I encourage the mother to sit quietly and look at her son. He responds quickly to her quiet, peaceful gaze by returning her gaze intently. The mother is reminded to watch for "body and behavioral SOSs" as she engages visually with her son. When she is reassured that no SOSs are present, she begins to talk to her son--quietly. In this relaxed, comfortable "Ready Zone," her baby looks intently at his mother.

Four women in the front row start dabbing their eyes when this story ends.  Though I have told this tale dozens of time, all of a sudden I realize that I, too, am choked up by the impact this story conveys about the critical importance of helping parents understand a baby's behavior.

I find myself saying to this (now engaged) group of nurses that "we walk on sacred ground when we work with young families." Using The HUG strategies and techniques enables parents to tell us what matters most to them. And, sometimes, that information reveals where a parent's passion dwells and where reassurance is needed.

I finish the day by showing the Bokko Birth Center video. Though this video story is remarkable, I explain that it is typical of the experiences I have using the HUG Strategies. A few more tissues emerge as these nurses are encouraged to add their newly acquired HUG tools to their kit of skills they use every day to support young families who so desperately want to be successful as new parents.